ANC’s alliance headache

Karima Brown, Business Day Weekender, 15 March 2008

Relations between the African National Congress (ANC) and its tripartite alliance partners were strained when President Thabo Mbeki was president of the ANC. Managing this relationship is proving equally difficult for Jacob Zuma.

Next week the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will hold their most important bilateral meeting since Zuma’s election as ANC president last year.

The meeting, which is likely to take place on the sidelines of the four-day ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting currently under way, comes at the request of Cosatu following recent public spats between party officials and the union federation over a number of issues.

Cosatu wants be to represented on the ANC’s national executive committee to ensure that the party heeds the concerns of organised labour. The ANC is digging in its heels because it does not like the way that Cosatu has been pursuing this goal.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has taken a dim view of Cosatu’s attempts to lobby for certain people to be elected into ANC positions, saying Cosatu’s behaviour was opportunistic and selfish. “They will alienate the ANC if they continue in this vein.”

The third member of the tripartite alliance, the South African Communist Party (SACP), has its top three leaders serving on the ANC’s national working committee. Several Cosatu leaders serve on the SACP’s central committee.

Cosatu will expect the SACP to support its bid to be represented in the ANC’s leadership structures, which could put further strain on the alliance.

Mantashe is a former trade unionist and is also chairman of the SACP. Blade Nzimande, the SACP general secretary, serves on the ANC’s national working committee. But Cosatu’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, holds no position in the ANC’s top structures — he refused to make himself available for election at the Polokwane conference.

ANC and Cosatu officials confirmed the bilateral meeting, but were tight -lipped on the details.

A senior Cosatu leader said the federation was “concerned” about Mantashe’s stance and would send all five of its national office- bearers to the bilateral meeting.

Cosatu’s leaders who backed Zuma were shortchanged at the ANC’s Polokwane conference when most of their candidates were ruled ineligible to stand for the ANC’s national executive committee because they failed to comply with the technical requirements of the voting procedures.

However, there was broad acceptance within the Zuma camp that the ANC would co-opt Cosatu leaders as either ex officio or permanent members of the national executive committee after Polokwane.

Things turned sour, though, when Cosatu went on a public offensive, saying it was going to “take over” the ANC — not only the party’s national executive committee, but also in the provinces as part of its campaign to keep the ANC “pro-poor”.

Cosatu officials have openly lobbied for candidates in the ANC’s provincial structures in preparation for a change of guard at this level of the ANC.

In North West and Western Cape, Cosatu is promoting names of candidates for ANC provincial executive positions. This has not gone down well and many in the ANC believe that this amounts to a power grab.

“Nobody in the ANC wants to be seen to be pulled this or that way by Cosatu. The ANC cannot be seen to be at Cosatu’s beck and call on this matter,” a senior ANC leader said.

Last month Cosatu’s central executive committee decided that it would engage the ANC and the SACP on the need to co-opt more trade union and civil society leaders onto the ANC national executive committee to ensure that it represented all constituencies of the party’s supporters.

“We shall also argue in these discussions that a certain number of the Cosatu leaders be invited to the NEC as ex officio members who will have full right to speak but not vote in the NEC,” a Cosatu official said.

“This will strengthen the voice of working people in the NEC.

“We will make concrete proposals on people to be co-opted and those who must serve on an ex officio basis but not be bound by the decisions.”

The ANC’s national executive committee meeting is likely to discuss this problem before next week’s discussion with Cosatu.

The bilateral meeting comes hot on the heels of Cosatu’s unhappiness over Zuma’s comments about a possible pact with business. The ANC sent Zuma, his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe and its deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise to Cosatu’s central executive committee meeting to paper over the cracks after Cosatu said it would oppose any changes to existing labour law.

Many trade union leaders are also likely to take exception to Mantashe’s labelling of Cosatu’s efforts as “ultra left” given that Mbeki often used the same label to dismiss legitimate concerns from the trade union movement during his time as ANC president.

However, trade union leaders have in the past abandoned their commitment to labour after they were offered positions in government by the ANC.

Former union leaders such as Jay Naidoo, Cyril Ramaphosa and Marcel Golding have become wealthy businessmen with little or no loyalty to their labour roots.

Cabinet ministers such as Alec Erwin, also a former trade unionist, are now strong proponents of Mbeki’s fiscal prudence and conservative economics.

“Individuals come and go, that should not be the emphasis, what is important is the need to bind the ANC to actual policy implementation on issues that affect the working class,” an SACP source said.

The last day of the ANC’s national executive committee meeting is meant to focus on the preparations for the alliance summit scheduled for next month.

While relationships between the ANC and Cosatu are tense, it could well spill over to the SACP, which will no doubt come under pressure to support either the ANC or Cosatu on the composition of the party’s leadership.

From: http://www.businessday.co.za/Articles/TarkArticle.aspx?ID=3166391

975 words